Ruf­falo mes­mer­izes as lawyer fight­ing DuPont

Orlando Sentinel - - IN THEATERS NOW - By Ken­neth Tu­ran

If the story of “Dark Wa­ters” sounds fa­mil­iar, to a cer­tain ex­tent it is. But this film is not busi­ness as usual, with the pres­ence of di­rec­tor Todd Haynes and star Mark Ruf­falo the key rea­sons why.

On the most ba­sic level “Dark Wa­ters” is a whistle­blower story, the lat­est in a genre of do­ing-the-right­thing sce­nar­ios that in­cludes such pop­u­lar films as “Erin Brock­ovich,” “The In­sider” and even “All the Pres­i­dent’s Men.”

In­spired by an ar­ti­cle in the New York Times Mag­a­zine, “Dark Wa­ters” could have sim­ply fol­lowed the tem­plate of the story’s up­beat head­line, “The Lawyer Who Be­came DuPont’s Worst Night­mare,” telling the story of at­tor­ney Robert Bilott, who worked for more than 20 years to ex­pose decades of heed­less en­vi­ron­men­tal con­tam­i­na­tion dread­ful enough to cost the chem­i­cal gi­ant $670 mil­lion in fines.

Ruf­falo, an ac­tor with an ac­tivist bent, read that story and de­cided to star in a movie ver­sion, be­com­ing lead pro­ducer and hir­ing Haynes, a di­rec­tor whose 1995 “Safe” was eco­log­i­cally pre­scient, and a film­maker who never does any­thing the ex­pected way.

Work­ing with screen­writ­ers Mario Cor­rea and Matthew Michael Car­na­han,

Haynes has con­structed a dark, edgy film, dis­turb­ing and meant to be, a real-life hor­ror show that de­tails the im­punity with which DuPont put prof­its above the known harm its chem­i­cals were caus­ing.

“Dark Wa­ters” also fo­cuses on the wrench­ing, dis­con­cert­ing con­se­quences of do­ing the right thing, on the num­ber of grind­ing years of un­re­lent­ing, life-chang­ing pressure — more than 20 in this case — that were needed to even be­gin to make a dif­fer­ence.

One of the many ironies in this story is that Bilott was in al­most all ways the least likely guy to be­come the en­vi­ron­men­tal hero.

Yes, Bilott (played by Ruf­falo) was an at­tor­ney, but the Cincinnati firm he worked for was old-school con­ser­va­tive to the core. Re­cently made a part­ner, his area of spe­cial­iza­tion was de­fend­ing big cor­po­ra­tions rather than su­ing them.

That all be­gan to change on a day in 1998 when gruff and fu­ri­ous Wil­bur Ten­nant (a brilliant Bill Camp), a farmer from Park­ers­burg, West Vir­ginia, who was ac­quainted with Bilott’s grand­mother, made the trip to Cincinnati and in­sisted “I want a lawyer.”

Though he’s a new fa­ther and his wife, Sarah (an ex­pert Anne Hath­away), is not sure why he’s even both­er­ing, Bilott feels com­pelled to take the drive to

Park­ers­burg.

Ten­nant has both phys­i­cal ev­i­dence and video­tape record­ings of the hor­rors that have been vis­ited on his herd of cat­tle, 190 of which he has buried. Ten­nant feels that the dam­age is caused by the neigh­bor­ing Dry Run Land­fill, where the Wash­ing­ton Works fac­tory op­er­ated by DuPont de­posits its chem­i­cal waste.

Be­fore mak­ing what he views as a friendly col­league-to-col­league re­quest to a pal at DuPont, Bilott runs his plan past his su­pe­rior, the but­toned down Tom Terp (Tim Rob­bins, ex­pert as well).

Nei­ther man has any idea of what they, and their firm, are get­ting into, though when a DuPont func­tionary warns Bilott that “you’re flush­ing your ca­reer down the toi­let,” he starts to get the idea.

That’s be­cause, as the lawyer finds out, a chem­i­cal var­i­ously known as PFOA or C8 and es­sen­tial to the man­u­fac­ture of Te­flon, is be­ing re­leased into the Park­ers­burg wa­ter sup­ply.

Ruf­falo is splen­did at pro­ject­ing the unusual com­bi­na­tion of bred-inthe-bone ideal­ism with mul­ish stub­born­ness that made it im­pos­si­ble for Bilott to walk away.

MARY CYBULSKI/FO­CUS FEA­TURES MPAA rat­ing: Run­ning time:

Mark Ruf­falo plays a lawyer who fights for the en­vi­ron­ment in “Dark Wa­ters.” PG-13 (for the­matic con­tent, some dis­turb­ing images and strong lan­guage) 2:06

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